Unlike previous post-WWII recessions that have lasted 10-12 months, Merrill Lynch‘s economist sees the current recession lasting longer—probably about 18 months. That grey cloud was delivered at CTAM Summit‘s closing session Tues by Merrill Lynch’s Jessica Reif Cohen. Calling cable "recession resistant, not recession proof," she noted that MSO stocks tend to recover earlier in a recession (1-2 quarters after a recession begins), while entertainment stocks recover much later (1-2 quarters after it ends). She sees cable’s net adds slowing down and not getting back to trend lines for about 2 years. During the ’90s, cable net adds slowed about 50%, she said. Still, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Discovery‘s David Zaslav said that so far cable has been very strong in terms of advertising—the most worrisome revenue source during the turndown. Discovery is up about 9% overall on the ad side, he said, crediting some of that to cable pricing being below broadcast and to broadcast ratings declines. "Having said that, we’re looking into next year, and we’re pretty cautious," Zaslav added. "4Q still remains strong. It has slowed down, but we’re holding our own. In 1Q, advertisers haven’t started to flee yet. I do think if the economy is as bad as Jessica says, it will close in on us as well." Canoe CEO David Verklin said that if anything, advertisers are more interested in Canoe’s work to create a national platform for cable for addressable advertising. After the panel, Verklin told Cfaxhe asked the MSOs in the jv if, given the economy, he should slow down. "They turned to me and said, ‘We’re big redwoods that need to be trimmed. You’re a tiny little plant that needs to be watered. If anything, go faster,’" he said. Advertisers and programmers seem to feel the same way, with a "ridiculous level" demanding to have meetings with Canoe, according to Verklin. "They’re looking for some change in the linear 30-sec TV commercial…this crisis could drive us toward that at an accelerated rate," Verklin said. Cablevision‘s Tom Rutledge said history has shown that while home construction slows down, so does cap ex for operators. "Your business is actually quite stable from a free cash flow perspective and from an operated cash flow perspective, and ultimately your business booms once things start up again," he said.— CTAM saved the best for last, with Tues’ closing session serving as the climax of the 3-day show. A few more highlights: Zaslav spoke against giving full episodes for free on the ‘Net, saying his company’s not chasing the Web because the economic model isn’t strong. "We need to get practical on the content side of the business, and take a look at where our bread is buttered." Rutledge declared that he never viewed VOD as a new revenue stream, but simply as a technology. Reif Cohen adamantly disagreed, declaring it a lost opportunity for cable with an $8bln movie rental business there for the taking. If programmers had been able to figure out the programming rights dilemma (many don’t own the rights to their programming) and offered ops everything, then VOD would be different today, Zaslav said, calling network DVR a backdoor to getting all those rights.

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